SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – For the second time in three months, a California appeals court on Wednesday rejected environmental challenges brought by opponents of a new arena project for the Sacramento Kings NBA team.
In November, the Third Appellate District okayed changes made by the Legislature to expedite environmental reviews so the Kings’ new owners can get their new arena built before the NBA’s 2017 deadline.
In an effort to keep the Kings from moving to Seattle, Sacramento city leaders partnered with the team’s new owners to build a new $477 million sports and entertainment complex just blocks from the statehouse.
The National Basketball Association’s board of governors agreed to keep the Kings in Sacramento with one condition: the new arena had to be ready by 2017.
To meet that deadline, Sacramento and the team’s owners – Sacramento Basketball Holdings – convinced state lawmakers to make changes to the public resources code that expedites the environmental review process mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act for the arena project only.
Adriana Saltonstall and 11 other opponents of the project filed two suits to stop the project. The first – over the legislative changes and the “public harm” the construction process would cause downtown – ended with the appellate panel upholding Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley’s refusal to block the arena build, which began months ago.
Saltonstall’s second lawsuit challenged the city’s move to buy up land for the arena before completing the environmental review process, as well as Sacramento’s finding that the Kings’ current home did not fit into its overall downtown revitalization plans.
On Wednesday, the same appellate panel upheld Frawley’s rejection of Saltonstall’s latest contentions.
“We conclude the city did not prematurely commit itself to approving the downtown arena project before completing its environmental review,” Judge Andrea Hoch wrote for the panel. “Under CEQA, the city was allowed to engage in land acquisition for its preferred site before finishing its EIR. Moreover, CEQA expressly allowed the city to exercise its eminent domain power to acquire the 600 block of K Street as the site of the arena before finishing its environmental review. The preliminary nonbinding term sheet between the city and Sacramento Basketball Holdings constituted an agreement to negotiate regarding the project and did not foreclose environmental review, mitigation, or even rejection of the project.”
As to Sacramento’s decision that remodeling the Kings’ current home – Sleep Train Arena in nearby Natomas – or building a new arena nearby did not mesh with its downtown revitalization plans, the panel upheld the city’s move not to conduct further study on those options.
“Regardless of whether the Sleep Train Arena remodel alternative might have been environmentally superior to the project approved, the remodel alternative would have suffered the same problems of location that caused the city to reject the other Natomas-based alternatives,” Hoch wrote.
Sacramento also performed an adequate study of the new arena’s impacts on traffic for nearby Interstate 5 – which cuts through downtown’s western edge – Hoch said, finding that those in charge of building the new arena knew and understood that the project could potentially create a traffic nightmare on game nights.
And nothing about post-game and post-event crowd control and potential violence – Saltonstall’s final assertion – falls under CEQA’s purview, the panel concluded.
Sacramento plans to open the 17,500-seat, LEED-certified arena by October 2016, along with 1.5 million square feet of retail, commercial, office and residential space.
Before that, however, the city faces a third lawsuit claiming that its $255 million subsidy of the project is illegal.
That case heads to trial in April.
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